The book is equal parts mystery and baseball. There is enough action in both aspects to keep the reader involved and turning pages quickly. Johnny Adcock is a terrific protagonist. He is a no-longer-young baseball player, 35 to be exact, thirteen years in the big leagues, his assigned role, as the title would suggest, to come into a game in the eighth inning, primarily to face left-handed hitters (as he is a southpaw himself), and retire them. Divorced and with a teenage daughter, his significant other is Bethany, a partner in a venture-capital firm who Johnny describes as the most intelligent woman he has ever met.
Johnny’s side job, so to speak, is as an investigator, which primarily involves “cheating spouses, paternity threats, nothing bloody or life-threatening.” Until now, that is. He is approached one night by Frankie Herrera, the 25-year-old backup catcher for the Bay Dogs of San Jose, California, who tells him that he has a “problem with his wife.” Very shortly thereafter, Frankie is found dead after an apparent auto accident. His widow believes it was not an accident, and hires Johnny to find out who killed her husband. The ensuing investigation embroils Johnny in matters of murder, porn, Mexican cartels, and other assorted intrigue.
Timing is everything, they say, and my reading this debut novel by T.T. Monday on the eve of the new baseball season couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. “The Set-Up Man” is a good mystery, with heavy doses of humor despite some of the darker aspects, and contains an abundance of terrific baseball lore and references. One doesn’t have to be a baseball addict to enjoy the novel (although, to be fair and in the spirit of full disclosure, I am exactly that). Not a no-hitter, perhaps, but a solid performance, especially from a rookie. This is a very entertaining book, on any level, and it is recommended.